World Grand Prix Final: Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Ding Junhui

Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ding Junhui will contest the final of the World Grand Prix on Sunday at the Guild Hall in Preston.

Ding Ronnie Welsh Open
O’Sullivan rates Ding highly. Photo credit: Monique Limbos.

The pair emerged from tight semi-final encounters to set up a first meeting with one another since Ding’s defeat of the “Rocket” in last year’s World Championship.

At that point last April, many had predicted that the landmark quarter-final success at the Crucible over the five-time champion would propel Ding up a level.

But apart from a solitary glory in the World Open in the summer, the Chinese number one has endured a prolonged period of struggle on the circuit.

By contrast, O’Sullivan has produced arguably the best form of his entire career over the last six or so months.

The 42 year-old claimed the English Open, Shanghai Masters, and UK Championship crowns in late 2017 and, even though he suffered the disappointment of failing to add to his record tally in the Masters, O’Sullivan is now bidding for a fourth ranking title in the same season for the first time in his illustrious career.

Indeed, his opponent Ding actually holds the record of ranking event victories in a campaign with five, shared with Stephen Hendry and his semi-final victim Mark Selby.

Ding just about prevailed in a tense, topsy-turvy tie with the world number one on Saturday evening in which there was never more than a frame between them and ultimately concluded as a deciding frame thriller.

O’Sullivan was made to work hard for his berth in the final as well, demonstrating his battling qualities by coming from 4-2 down to edge Stephen Maguire 6-4 in Friday’s opening semi-final clash.

Despite having lost their last duel in Sheffield, O’Sullivan will undoubtedly be a strong favourite to outlast the challenge of Ding in the best of 19 showdown on Sunday.

The Englishman has a 10-4 head-to-head record against the former UK and Masters champion, including a triumph at this same stage of the Welsh Open four years ago.

One of Ding’s wins also came in the final of a ranking event but that was all the way back in 2006 at the Northern Ireland Trophy when he was still a teenager.

That moment to savour came only months before one of Ding’s most chastening experiences when he was reduced to tears in a raucous atmosphere that led to a painful defeat to O’Sullivan in the final of the 2007 Masters in London.

Since then, O’Sullivan has mostly dominated their battles, at least up until their World Championship meeting nine months ago.

Ding, of course, as a proven champion in his own right will be fiercely gunning for victory but, even if he falls short, this week has shown a huge improvement in his standard of play.

The world number four would go sixth on his own ahead of Selby in the all-time ranking event winners list on 14 if he were to topple O’Sullivan but the latter could move onto 32, which would see him creep closer to Hendry’s all-time record of 36.

O’Sullivan, whether he admits to it or not, must surely have that target in his sights and, along with his inevitable quest to reach the 1,000 centuries landmark, it seems to be motivating him to sustained success.

If he produces close to his A-game, it’s hard to envisage anything other than an O’Sullivan victory but Ding won’t make it easy and, if his semi-final proved anything, he can rely on his bottle if he needs to.

Live coverage will be on ITV4.

Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)

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